Creative Learning Connection

Homeschool Resources from a Veterean Homeschool Mom

Category: Homeschooling Encouragement

Encouragement from a Mom of 12 with 35 years of homeschooling experience.

Teaching Curriculum versus Learning Curriculum?

Learning and Teaching

I want to expand on the ideas I presented last week in “How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?” Learning and teaching are two of my favorite topics and have been for a long time – that’s why I have read books like John Holt’s classics, How Children Learn and How Children Fail, for decades now. And I listen to Great Courses lectures like How We Learn and Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health.

Mind-Body

You can probably see where I’m going with those first titles, but may be scratching your head on that last one.  One moment I was talking about learning and teaching, and the next I was talking about medicine.  Well, not quite. Professor Satterfield teaches about much more than medicine in this lecture series.  He also speaks of how we learn, in the context of how our mind and body work together. In Lecture 7 he said something so simple, but so significant, that I stopped what I was doing at the time, so I could write it down. Professor Satterfield asked: “Do we want a teaching curriculum or a learning curriculum?”

Where is Our Emphasis?

In that question lies the crux of what I believe more educators (at home and in schools) need to address – is the emphasis on what is being taught or on what is being learned?  I’ve been asking that for at least the last decade or so, maybe longer, as I’ve counseled other homeschoolers: Just because we’ve taught something, or covered something (i.e. force fed textbooks and tests after textbooks and tests) doesn’t mean it’s been learned! Professor Satterfield mentioned another thing I’ve been saying for a long time – learning something long enough to regurgitate it on the test, and then promptly forgetting it, isn’t true learning at all.

Our Learning Goals

So, when you are trying to decide what your student really needs to be doing in this coming school year, please keep that in mind. Let’s get to a point where we are focused more on helping our students be better learners, rather than just better test takers. I was a straight A student through high school, but that doesn’t mean I had a quality education. It meant I knew how to memorize things for the tests. It wasn’t until after college, when I came face to face with the history around me, that I really started learning for learning’s sake. That (and homeschooling my own kids for the past 35 years) is when my real education began.

What Makes a Great Education Package?

A truly great education package doesn’t teach our students everything they need to know (since that is a goal we will never achieve). But, rather it gives them the tools and the desire to learn. That is the gift that I hope I have given my children and my other students in my 35-year journey of homeschooling. There are certainly things they didn’t learn from me that they could have, but that isn’t the issue. Did I open their eyes, their minds, and their worlds, so that they could get a taste of what it meant to truly learn, and then did I send them off with the tools to learn whatever they needed/wanted to learn? That was my goal and I hope that I have accomplished that to the best of my human ability.

Happy learning!

Cathy

How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?

Questions Homeschoolers Ask Themselves

Along the way to finishing our homeschooling journey, I asked myself the same questions most homeschoolers ask themselves at some point: What are our goals? What do my children/students really need to accomplish before they graduate?

Ultimately, I distilled those questions down to what I consider to be the most critical question: How do I encourage my children to learn? (And as part of that question – to want to learn?)

Encouraging our Students to Learn

Can’t we honestly say that everything we are trying to accomplish in teaching can be boiled down to that question: How do we encourage our students to learn?

We can disagree on what they should learn, maybe even why they should learn certain things, but regardless of how long our children learn at home – our ultimate goal might best be stated as “We want our children to be lifelong learners.”

So, how do we accomplish that? Even if we all agree on that principle, it’s doubtful we will all agree on how to accomplish it. But, let me be so bold, after thirty-five years of home educating, to offer my thoughts on the subject:

The Tools to Learn

First, we have to give them the tools to learn – starting with the basics of reading and writing in most cases (there are exceptions, when students truly can’t learn those, but those are rare – and will likely be the topic of a future post). But for most of us, the ability to read well will open more doors than almost any other skill. (And, I might add, the enjoyment of reading would be a close second.)

A Desire to Learn

But more than just the tools, we need to give them a desire to learn. How many times does it seem like as the homeschool parents/teachers we’re in the business of squashing interests, rather than developing them? Let’s whet their appetite to learn new things, rather than extinguish it.

Introducing them to New and Exciting Things

We need to introduce them to new and exciting things – to expand their horizons beyond themselves. One of my favorite ways to do that has been through travel. A friend sent me Mark Twain’s quote about travel while I was on my most recent trip: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And aren’t those some of our goals as homeschooling parents?

Every time I travel I am personally motivated to learn more about my destinations – their history and culture, their people and their geography.  I am glad I have been able to take my children on a fairly large number of trips during my decades of parenting/homeschooling. As Mark Twain put it so well, and I have believed for as long as I can remember, travel is a great way to increase our/their horizons,

Opening their Minds

But if travel is not in your budget or desires, choose other ways to open their minds – books of other lands and times are a great way to pique their interests. Introduce them to new and different people. Watch movies about things that introduce them to other cultures. The list of options is endless.

Encourage Creativity

In addition to opening their minds in this manner, encourage creativity. Too much of school is geared towards finding “the right answer.” But how much of life is actually about finding a unique solution to a problem – troubleshooting, figuring out how to use the resources at hand? Most of that type of knowledge comes from experiences – not from the pages of a textbook.

For far too long I didn’t consider myself to be a creative person – because I’m not particularly artistic or musical (particularly compared to other members of my family). But I finally figured out that creativity manifests itself in so many other ways – such as writing. How many of our students are being deprived of creative opportunities – whether musically, artistically, or other – simply because we are too focused on getting through our textbooks?

Logic and Thinking Skills

Similarly, work on developing logical and thinking skills. Our family plays games and puts together puzzles regularly, both of which build thinking skills and logic. (I wrote more on how important games are in a previous post.) We also used materials from Critical Thinking Press frequently – a great treasure trove of materials for “building thinking skills.”

When we have given our students the tools of learning and a taste for learning, and helped develop their creative and logical skills – what in life will they not be able to tackle?

What are others saying about this topic?

I was putting the finishing touches on this post when I saw the email from Mises Institute, with their post, “Four Reasons Why College Degrees are Becoming Useless.” Their first point mentions the importance of “critical thinking skills.” And on the FEE website I found another article specifically about creativity: “How Schooling Crushes Creativity”

So what do you think? What is important as you teach your students? How do you encourage them (and yourselves) to be lifelong learners?

Happy learning and living!
Cathy

The Wonder and Value of Audio Books!

Books on Tape

I’m sure by now most or all of you have enjoyed some form of “Books on tape.” For those of you too young to remember the things that came before CDs (or are even CDs becoming old school now?), my earliest memories of books on tape were when my Dad was in Vietnam in 1970. He read aloud a book for us, recording it on a cassette tape, one chapter at a time and mailing the tapes to us in the United States. My husband did the same thing in 1999 when we were in Germany and he was in Saudi Arabia with Desert Storm. (My dad read a horse story and my husband read Mouse and the Motorcycle.)

Audio Books vs. Read Alouds

Since those times, I have listened to hundreds of audio books, and I don’t think the best narrators out there will ever surpass those experiences. But I will say that many of the narrators I’ve listened to make the power of the written word come alive in some pretty wonderful ways. And while reading aloud to our children should be a regular part of parenting, sometimes it’s nice to be on the receiving side of read-alouds, and not just on the giving side.

One of the nice things about audio books (as opposed to read alouds) is that they can be listened to again and again without wearing out the narrator (read: parent or older sibling). And they can be enjoyed at almost any time. One of my sons who learned to read late commented recently that he would have LOVED to have had more audio books available when he was younger. (We tended to have enough for road trips, but certainly not near as many as “real” books, so he and other late bloomers were at the mercy of their older sibling’s reading time when they wanted to enjoy a good book together. (Chronicles of Narnia and the entire American Adventures series were popular read alouds.)

Traveling with Children

We tend to listen to A LOT of audio books while traveling, regardless of who is in the car. Obviously the choices of books vary, but the act of listening to books is a common part of road trips in our family. In the early years it was generally CDs picked up from the library or tapes and CDs that we had purchased. Even the one vehicle we’ve owned with a DVD player in it (our 8 passenger Toyota Sienna), involved much more listening than watching. (See the blog post on travelling on the Lewis and Clark trail for more information on how we handled that.)

When traveling with children, I can’t even imagine not having a vast variety of audio books to help fill the hours with fun and education.  As I mentioned in the Lewis and Clark post, we have a special love of Odyssey, Jungle Jam, and Jonathan Park stories for road trips that involve children.

Children’s Books

As time moves on, so does technology. So now, we are just as likely to be listening to a book we’ve downloaded, but in many ways the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have been an Audible account holder for three years now, and since that account is more for me, than for others, it does contain a lot of books that I got just for me to listen to. But, in the midst of all of those there is still a fairly good mix of children’s books – from Winnie the Pooh and the Little Prince to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (and the Hobbit, if you can include that on a list of children’s books, which I have mixed feelings about). I’ve listened to this particular recording of the Hobbit all the way through twice, and if you won’t think less of me, I’ll even admit to having listened to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (actually I’ll admit to those either way – they were fun books). I have only listened to the beginnings of the other two, but in time, I hope to add those to my completed list. (Maybe I’ll look for an opportunity to share them with my grandchildren.)

Educational Value of Audibles

For children learning to read, the ability to hear a book and follow along on a physical copy can be very fruitful. And for older students, the amount of educational materials available on Audible is quite impressive.  Their collection of the Great Courses lectures series alone makes Audible invaluable. The lectures are aimed at college students and other adults, but with careful use, many of them can also be very useful for high school students.  (More on Great Courses below.)

My Personal Audible List

My listening library is as eclectic as my physical library (and the books I write, for that matter). My interests are vast and varied – and a quick look at my audio library shows that. Many of those books are ones that I sought out for one reason or another, but many others are ones I found thanks to one of Audible’s great sales (their “Daily Deal” being one of my favorites – though sometimes I find they can go many, many days before I see something even worth looking at). One of the many things I like about Audible is that when you have a membership they give you 12 months to decide whether you actually like a book or not. (And when an account gets as backlogged as mine does sometimes, that’s a nice time period.)

With that wonderful refund policy, I’ve actually returned about 10% of the books I’ve gotten from Audible. I usually make returns for one of two reasons – I don’t like the narrator or the bad language is just too much to put up with. Or, thirdly, on a few occasions it was because I just couldn’t get into the story. And it’s nice to be able to return a book for any of those reasons.

And, as a result of their specials, and their generous return policy, I’ve discovered a whole world of Audio books I wouldn’t have known existed.

Great Courses as Audibles

I would be remiss in not mentioning one particular category of Audible books that alone would make my Audible account worth having – the Great Courses lecture series.  Almost every Great Courses series that can be bought as just an audio can be gotten through Audible. At just $10 – $15 (depending on your credit costs), I know of no better way to listen to their amazing array of wonderful courses! (And if you watch the sales, sometimes they are even cheaper than that!) I still buy the occasional video-based course straight from Great Courses, but if it will work as just audio, I buy it from Audible!

Just a small sampling of some of my favorite Great Courses Audible books (and I’ve bought over 40!):

Other Types of Books I Enjoy

And of course, I do listen to “real” books in addition to the many lectures I enjoy –  both fiction and non-fiction.  Some of my favorite non-fiction books have included more books on writing, more on history (I’m sure both of those surprise you), in addition to more Shakespeare and economics. My fiction books are pretty well mixed as well, though I have discovered that I enjoy quite a few “political thrillers” and “cozy mysteries,” – with Rhys Bowen being one of my favorite, newly discovered authors!

At $10 – $15 for the “full priced” audible books I buy, and $5 or less for the sale books, I get lots of bang for my bucks for the Audible books I purchase.  If you haven’t already given Audible a try, I can strongly recommend it!

Trying Audible

Now that I’m three years and three hundred plus books into my Audible journey, I’m constantly amazed at how many people haven’t tried it. For $15/month, you get one credit (which equals one regularly priced book), or for $25/month you get two credits. (And it probably won’t surprise you to know that there’s an even more impressive/expensive membership for those of us who want to get an average of more than two books per month.

So have you given Audible a try for yourself and/or your family? What are your favorite books to listen to? I would love to hear what your thoughts and experiences with Audible have been.

Happy listening!

Cathy

Yes, Learning Can Be Fun!

Do You Believe Learning Can Be Fun?

Are you one of those teachers/parents who question whether school can actually be fun? If so, sadly, I would put you in the majority. For some reason, the idea that learning can be fun seems to escape most teachers I talk to (teachers at home or in classrooms).  It’s as if we’ve come to associate learning and drudgery, education and pain.

Do You Incorporate Games?

So after homeschooling for the better part of thirty-five years and helping other homeschool families for at least half of that time, I guess I shouldn’t be amazed by how many people don’t incorporate games into their homeschooling packages.

When Do You Use Games?

Instead, it seems that “fun learning” is something we hold over our students’ heads – “after you finish your assignment, you can play that game, or put together that puzzle.”

What is “Real” School?

But, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what we consider as “real school.” My proposition: If learning is taking place – education is in effect.  And education counts as “real school,” even if it’s outside the scope of a packaged curriculum.  If learning is fun, we have less resistance, our students want to continue it longer, and they will retain more of it.

So where, exactly is the problem with any of that?  Maybe because it takes us away from our comfort zones of lesson plans, “canned curriculum,” and tests. But maybe that’s exactly what we need to be doing.

Games – General

Too often we think of games as merely entertainment or the reward for completing the required schoolwork. But as I said, my contention is that games can and should be a regular part of our educational packages. We need to look more seriously at the “non-schoolish” things that can comprise the various elements of how we educate our children. Those elements should include hands-on learning when feasible and games can make up a unique part of that type of learning.

Games – Valuable Ways to Expand Education

Games often stand alone in their ability to combine fun and repetition with learning. The best games also bring family members of various ages and abilities together in ways that canned curriculum will never do. Once you have started thinking of games as valuable ways to expand the education of your children, you should start to see games and game ideas in a variety of places.

Games You May Already Own

You may want to start by relooking at the games your family already owns.  Have you ever stopped to consider the educational value of games like Monopoly, Yahtzee, and Scrabble? Most of us have owned those games for years, but how often do we break them out as part of school? Sadly, not often enough.

New Rules for Old Games

Consider the games you already own according to the rules they came with, but also try to look at them in a new light. How many of them would serve other purposes if we tweaked the rules some or came up with brand new rules? When children are learning their math facts, dice are a great tool, and when they are learning to spell, Scrabble letters are very useful.

Thinking Outside the Box

And I have found that once we get our children thinking “outside the box” they often exceed us in coming up with new and creative ideas. And of course, beyond revising the games you already own, it can be worth taking a look at new games as well. Well-made quality games are pricier today than when I first started buying games for my family, but the next time you find an educational game you think might meet the needs of your family, but you are balking at the price, consider how much we often spend on just one textbook or teachers’ manual!

All of a sudden that game, which could occupy numerous members of your family for many, many hours and help them obtain or practice a new skill, may be a great value indeed. We need to view prices as just part of the value factor and not the determining one. A very cheap game that no one likes, or that teaches little, can be a very bad use of our money, while the pricier one may prove to be the best value in your educational toolbox.

Repetition Without Pain

Games are particularly useful for young children and students of any age with learning disabilities, but that does not mean you should shy away from them for your other, older students. A key ingredient in any learning is repetition, and a prime factor in repetition without pain is fun! Too many times we discount the importance of fun in education, and we do so at our own loss, and that of our students.

Enjoying a Card Game

Card Games, Dice Games, Board Games

Now, I’m not talking computer games or electronic games here. I will not go so far as to say that there is no educational value in any of those, but I will say that in the case of most kids, they need less electronic stimulation, not more. I’m talking about the value of card games and dice games and good old-fashioned board games.

Good Books and Lots of Games

I was fortunate to grow up with two very important things in my home – lots of good books and lots of game playing, particularly cards. Consequently, my own children have grown up surrounded by both as well! At one point my children counted the games in our game collection, and we had over one hundred. (At last approximation we had over five thousand books in our home as well.) Not that every game gets played equally, but many, many of them have been enjoyed for countless hours by a large variety of people – in and out of our family.

Travel Games/Cards

When we buy each other gifts, they are as often as not books, games, or both. When the older children come home for holidays or breaks out come the favorite games. (Or along come new games, that are often destined to become favorites.) And any time is a good time to pull out a deck of cards! When we travel, it isn’t a question of if we’ll pack any games, but how many we’ll pack.  Even if space is tight, there’s always room for a deck or two of cards. And whether our current group consists of two or ten or more, we can find a game that will work.  (And on the occasion that our group is larger than that, something which happens more and more these days, we just lengthen the table and play multiple games at the same time!)

Specifics: Playing Cards

We would be lost without multiple decks of playing cards around our home.  Cards are an inexpensive, portable, versatile activity.  The youngest to the oldest can be occupied with them. Younger children can match colors and numbers, even with a partial deck of cards.

Card Games for Younger Children

It’s a shame that cards seem to have lost their universal appeal in many places. Cards are not just good fun and shared memories (which would already be enough to make them valuable), they are also great for improving memory, strategy and thinking skills. While most card games involve some level of “luck,” the better ones also require planning and thinking. With younger students there are always the old classics – Memory, Go Fish, Old Maid, Crazy Eights, and War. (Stop and think about the educational value in each of those if you have previously discounted them.)

Memory Games

Memory games are wonderful, and put various ages on an equal footing; my youngest children almost always beat me in these games. (And the beauty of memory games is that they can be made to help introduce or review almost any different topic!)

Card Games for Older Family Members

In our family, we enjoy various card games with anywhere from one to twelve players.  Most of the games we play build thinking skills and the ability to strategize. As the kids got older, some of our family favorites have included Spades, Hearts, Blackout, Canasta, and Shanghai Rummy.

And nowadays you can find the rules for any or all of those on-line, so if you haven’t played them before, or don’t remember how, that is no excuse!

Specifics: Timeline Games

 Chronology

Many years ago I stumbled upon a special card game called Chronology. The original Chronology contained six hundred cards, each with a date and event from their list of important dates in world history. If you can ever find the game, it is a great introduction to or review of world history.)

With Chronology each person starts with a card face up in front of them, and the idea is to build your own personal timeline. If it is your turn, the person next to you on the right takes the top card of the draw pile and reads you the event on it. You don’t have to know the date on the card, you only have to know where it falls relative to the other card you have. (Before in time? Or afterwards?) If you guess correctly you add the card to your personal timeline. Your goal is to eventually arrange a predetermined number of cards in chronological order in front of you.

Time-Line Games

It’s a great way to review (or learn) the flow of important events in history, without sitting down and trying to memorize them.  We liked the idea so well that we made a number of our own Time-Line games, including the History of Astronomy, Space Exploration, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and many more.

And of course, you can also make your own. You can take a timeline of any period of history you are studying with your family and make your own timeline game. You could even make one of family history, including births, deaths (if desired), marriages, and other key family dates.

Specifics: Chess

Chess is a wonderful tool to develop thinking skills.  It is inexpensive, fairly easy to learn, but difficult to master.  It will occupy one or more students for great lengths of time.

Specifics: Puzzles

Puzzles are great builders of both visual skills and thinking skills.  Ravensburger Puzzles have been our all-time favorites, with 24 to 5,000 pieces. Beautiful pictures and quality pieces make them a real joy to put together by all ages.  Larger puzzles can be put together as a cooperative effort by many family members.

 Conclusion

 Games can be store-bought or home-made.  When you are considering games to purchase, look for games that are

  • Educational
  • Versatile
  • Long Lasting (enjoyable to play for years to come)
  • Economical (cheaper is not always the best investment)

Quality German Games

Some of the best games in the world come out of Germany.  I was reading an article in the December 9, 2002 issue of U.S. News and World Report that discussed this phenomenon.  German games topped seven out of ten of Games Magazine’s 2002 categories.  German games are often more expensive – because they are so well built – but they are generally worth the investment.  Our current game collection (over one hundred games) includes a number of games that we bought when we were in Germany –  again, many of them from Ravensburger. German games tend to include more strategy than their American counterparts, and are generally fast-paced.

Educational Games

Educational games can be considered part of our “curriculum package”.   Retention is aided when the students are having fun while learning.  Games can introduce a concept, or help reinforce an existing lesson.  They do not have to be saved until “after school”, they can be part of school.  Buy good games to supplement your other materials – or make your own!  Or better yet, have your students make them!  What a great way to reinforce learning.

Games and Reinforcement

Games can and should be used as a supplement no matter which method(s) we primarily use.  Because games are fun, and easy to repeat, and three-dimensional, they reinforce learning in a way that’s hard to replicate with other methods.

I hope I have helped convince you to look at educational games in a new light. Don’t be afraid to create your own games to help your children repeat or review important concepts. And be sure to take a fresh look at the games that already exist in the market. In conclusion, strive to make learning a little more fun for your family!

 

Have fun learning!

Cathy

Celebrating 35 years of Homeschooling, 40 years of Parenting, 60 years of Life

I think parents in general and homeschoolers specifically have a tendency to become too focused on the here and now. We tend to worry about when our children will learn to read, whether they’ve finished enough textbooks, and how we’ll get them through high school. But although I covered homeschooling highschoolers in an earlier post, I don’t think even that is where we should be focusing our attention. What will their lives look like when they are adults? What will our relationships be with them then? While they will always be our children, our relationships with them can and should change as they become adults.

As a result, I’m not one that cries at graduations or weddings. I see those as further celebrations of the job that we have done (as imperfect as it may be). Maybe it’s easier for me to think that way, since as of last summer, all of my children are adults. But let me encourage you by telling you, it’s all worth it! All the struggles, all the concerns, all the difficulties along the way to seeing them growing up – someday our jobs raising them really are completed.

I’ve been celebrating the completion of almost 35 years of homeschooling since my youngest graduated last May. I had threatened to dance across the stage at that graduation, but since I was also the key note speaker, I only danced internally.

In July the youngest turned 18, marking the passage of all my children to adulthood. (Even if Alabama thinks that age is 19, we’ll go with 18. I don’t want to wait another year to consider that job done, especially when the “child” in question has already graduated and left home!)

Those were celebrations, to be sure. But I think the final celebration of my work as a “Mom of 12” came when my children honored me with a video for my 60th birthday this past week. I laughed and cried (tears of joy) all the way through the 30-minute video where my children and “bonus children” (my son-in-law and daughters-in-law) shared various memories from the last many, many years.

And while no one will ever doubt that I’ve made as many mistakes as any other parent, I can know that I did my best as I raised my children, and that through it they all not only survived but also thrived.

As I watched the video (multiple times, in fact), I have to say that these are the types of things that bring joy to the heart of a homeschool mom, when she hears the thanks for:

  • Always believing in them when they struggled with learning something
  • Always being there for them (even when we were geographically apart)
  • Being willing to say, “Yes, and…” in support of their ideas whenever I could.

Teaching them:

  • To think outside the box
  • To never give up
  • To be willing to try new things/to be adventurous
  • To be thoughtful
  • To be questioning
  • To do their best (but not stress about the scores/results/etc.)

Several of my children enjoying a game.

Instilling in them

  • A love of Learning
  • A love of Games
  • A love of Travel
  • A love of History

Statue of York in Louisville
Following the Lewis and Clark Trail gave us history and travel!

So, when the homeschooling or parenting path is difficult, and you just want to throw in the towel, remember, they do grow up. (I’ve always heard “They grow up too fast” – but I don’t think I would go that far!) And someday, you too will be developing new relationships with your adult children and just looking back at these days as memories.

In the meantime, enjoy the present, don’t stress about the past, and look forward to that day in the future when you too will be retired from this current job that sometimes seems like it will go on forever.

Happy learning and living!

Cathy

Concerns about Homeschooling through High School

Our High School at Home Adventures

When my family started homeschooling more than three decades ago, we weren’t committing to homeschooling all the way through high school; at the beginning the idea was to take it one year at a time. It wasn’t until our older students were teenagers that we finally decided we could indeed homeschool through high school.

From then on, the decision was basically made – to homeschool all twelve of our children all the way through to graduation. That didn’t mean that high school looked the same for all twelve of them, or that we didn’t make changes along the way. But we had at least made that initial decision about high school.

As with all other aspects of homeschooling, there isn’t one right way to homeschool the high school years. And while our family decided, for the most part, to homeschool straight through to the end, that isn’t necessarily the decision that all homeschool families will make.

But regardless of different family decisions about how long to homeschool, or how to homeschool, one thing we all have in common is that we want what’s best for our children!  Because of that, we want to be the ones to direct their education – whatever direction(s) that education may take.

And yet, in spite of those desires, many homeschooling parents fear the high school years.  Every stage brings unique challenges and unique pleasures. But, in my experience, there is something really special about the teenage years. The “difficult” tasks (like potty training, learning to read, etc.) are done by then. (Okay – teaching them to drive is not a piece of cake either.  But we survived that twelve times, so I’m guessing you can too.)

I personally like to teach teens. They can generally listen well, read well, and argue well. Call it “discuss well” if it makes you feel better, but with teens the two are basically synonymous. At this stage, our students are well on their way to becoming independent adults, one of our primary goals for homeschooling (or, at least in my humble opinion, it should be!).

Concerns about Homeschooling through High School

So, why are home schoolers so often intimidated by the thought of teaching their own teens?  The answers I usually hear include:

  • Concern over classes (especially “difficult” ones like foreign languages and higher math)
  • Concern over credits and transcripts
  • Concern about getting into college (I covered that question fairly extensively in the Homeschooling Questions and Answers blog post, so we’ll just look at the first two concerns in this post.)

Our first (of 7 and counting) College Graduate with his youngest sister.

Let’s start with the first of those specific concerns:

High School Level Classes

The idea of home schooling through high school causes unnecessary stress in many families.  How to handle higher level math classes, science labs, and foreign languages rank at the head of most lists of potential problems.  But why?  It shouldn’t be, for several reasons:

  1.  First of all, most homeschooling parents can personally handle teaching more of those classes than they give themselves credit for. (I had never read a Shakespeare play all the way through when I started teaching my first Shakespeare classes. And I certainly knew very little about teaching Government when I started that – but with may topics we can learn as we go, right alongside our students.)
  2. High schoolers can handle much more of the load themselves than we give them credit for. (And there are a growing number of online resources, such as Kahn Academy, where they can do upper level work on their own.) But, remember, though, even when they can be self-taught, they are not necessarily self-motivated! Your job at that point may become more of a director than an actual teacher.
  3. Nowadays, homeschooling mothers and fathers (as well as others in the community) are offering many of these subjects as classes. (And again, online options are multiplying!)
  4. Correspondence schools are another option that we’ve tried for high school classes.  It wasn’t one of our favorites – but it did work. (My oldest got her high school diploma through The American School.)  For some families it may be just the answer to these concerns.
  5. And last, but certainly not least, local colleges can fill in just about any other gaps in higher level high school classes.  When my fourth child got to the Saxon Calculus book the summer before his senior year, he decided that while he could do it on his own, he didn’t want to, so he went to the local university and jumped through the hoops to enroll in their Dual Enrollment program. Since then I’ve had several children who did Dual Enrollment and/or Early Enrollment while in high school.  It isn’t the answer for every student, but it certainly adds to a family’s options.

I can’t leave the topic of college without addressing one of my personal concerns after so many years of homeschooling. One of the growing trends seems to be for homeschoolers to rush their kids through their schooling and graduate them early. But I have to ask, why do we want to be in such a big hurry to graduate our students?

They certainly aren’t lacking for subjects that they can study at home. What do we gain and what do they gain by rushing the process, versus what is lost – more time with their family; more time to mature; more time to pursue special interests?  There are exceptions, of course, but I think home schoolers would do well to rethink this trend.

So, as you look forward (or at least ahead) to the high school years, please remember that home education equals parent-directed education.  Helping find the right places for them to study the subjects that they need is an important part of our everchanging role in their lives, even when we are phasing out of being their primary instructors. (When and how that happens will vary between families, and often between students within a family.) We should be anticipating the time that they graduate and move on to their own lives, and we can start that process slowly, rather than the day they are handed their diplomas.

High School Credits

How to award credits for high school classes is another big, but mostly needless, concern.  I know of two accepted standards for awarding a credit.

  1. Starting and completing a high school level textbook. (Or mostly completing one, since in reality, classroom teachers aren’t completing most of them anyway.)
  2. Logging approximately 120 – 150 hours in a specific subject – reading, discussing, listening to lectures, writing about it, and watching related videos all count towards the necessary time.  I found the book Design-Form-U-La to be very helpful when we started keeping these kinds of records, though sadly that book seems to be harder and harder to find.

Our family granted most credits based on the “hours logged” in a subject, rather than through textbook completion, since we used so few textbooks, even in high school.  Textbooks are not totally bad – but they are so two-dimensional! I cover more about that in my blog post, Homeschooling through Topical Studies.

Learning can and should be three-dimensional. In addition to the standard academic classes, high school (even at home) can include:

  • Athletics
  • Drama
  • Essay & speech contests like those sponsored by  the Optimist Club as well as a growing number of homeschool debate clubs
  • Real life political events such as God & Country rallies and election involvement
  • Youth in Government programs

All of my children did Mock Trial one or more years!

And students can receive high school credit for work done before high school, in seventh or eighth grade, if it’s high school level work.

High School Transcripts

Transcripts also intimidate many folks – but they’re really easy to do.  The standard way is to break courses up by school year, one section for the freshman year, one for the sophomore year, etc. But in our family, we preferred to show them by subjects instead, with all the English classes listed together, and then the math, and then the science, etc.  Like so much else, it’s easy to find samples to look at with an online search.

Transcripts need to include the student’s name, date of birth, and school years covered.  Each class listed should include the general subject it was in (such as science), followed by the specific Course title (such as Biology), a grade, and a credit (usually ½ or 1).  Not too complicated.

I hope this has helped you feel a little less intimidated by homeschooling through high school. This is an exciting time to be sharing that time with your children who are on their way to becoming adults.

In my book, Teaching Teens, I go into these and other related topics a bit more, as well as give example forms for counting credits, tracking grades, and making transcripts.

Happy Learning!

Cathy

Homeschooling with Topical Studies

Homeschooling without Textbooks

Do you struggle with reluctant students?  Or “lazy” students?  Are you having trouble hanging in there until the end of the year?  Maybe it’s time you reevaluate your methods, rather than giving in and giving up. Have you taken a look at homeschooling with topical studies? Maybe it’s time.

What are Topical Studies?

A friend and I coined the term “topical study” a number of years back to describe something more limited in nature than the “unit studies” that were becoming popular with many homeschoolers. A topical study is more the study of a particular topic within a subject, rather than the “all encompassing” type of study that a unit study often entails.  For instance, for much of our 35 years of homeschooling we studied history topically – the Civil War was our topic one year, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition was our topic a different time.  These topical studies might cover some other subjects as well, art or music, or science, for instance, but they were primarily designed to deal with a particular topic – for us generally history or science.

Why Topical Studies Make Sense

Real learning involves getting familiar with something and getting comfortable with it!  Familiarity and comfort don’t come when one topic after another is thrown at a learner. They come from repetition and context.

We must encounter the same words, the same concepts, the same dates many times before we “own” them, before they become a part of our vocabulary, something that we remember. Textbook teaching does not lead to this kind of ownership very often.

In my humble opinion (my bias will definitely show here) History and Science should be taught exclusively with the Topical Study/Unit Study method through at least eighth grade (though I have to admit to sticking to that method even in high school).  Is it too painfully obvious here that I have an aversion to textbooks?  It’s not that textbooks are totally worthless, but I would have to say they are often close.  Let’s be honest here:  How often do you go to a textbook to find the answer to a question?  How much of what you endured “learning” through textbooks, do you actually remember?  Enough said.

Holt, Gatto, and Harris Weigh in

John Holt (a well-known unschooler back in the days when we began our homeschooling journey) talked about “how children fail” and “how children learn.” He suggested that if we have reluctant and/or lazy students, we should blame our materials and/or our methods, not our students!

And please remember that most of us are basing our methods and materials on the public school systems – because that’s the only thing we know.  As John Gatto (a New York City teacher of the year) reminded us in Dumbing Us Down, the public school system is failing, so why are we trying so hard to copy it?

Many years ago, Gregg Harris (a popular homeschool author at the time) proposed “delight directed studies” to take care of the problem of a reluctant student.  This can be our delight or their delight.  This is a very important point when you start looking at Topical Studies.  You need to pick something your family will get excited about.

Da Vinci has been a delight of mine for many years!

What if We Miss Something?

One of the questions often voiced about getting away from textbooks is, “What if I miss something this way, what if I don’t cover something that should have been covered?” My first response when someone asks that question is often, “Covered according to whom?”  Contrary to what some folks would lead us to believe, there is no one “correct” curriculum for, say, fourth grade, or sixth grade, or any other grade.

Also, remember that covering material does not equal learning it!   There is an important distinction here!  Please don’t miss it.  With topical studies, we cover less, and learn more.

Aren’t Topical Studies a lot of Work?

Why do we want to go to the “trouble” of topical studies? It is more trouble than just picking up a textbook and going through it.  But it is also more effective!  It’s more fun!  And it’s usually more enjoyable for students and teacher alike!

Topical studies also give siblings something in common: shared knowledge and experiences.  We can carry our “school” discussions much beyond the “classroom” this way, since several of us are studying the same thing at the same time.  And that includes the teachers, since they are now spending their time preparing a topical study, instead of writing out lesson plans, grading tests, and checking assignments.

Okay, But Now What?

I hope you’re convinced, and that you want to try a topical study.  But you may be asking, now what?  How do you actually plan the studies?

They don’t have to be long.  (Even though ours usually ended up taking up an entire school year or more, they certainly don’t have to!)  You might want to start with something small, like a two week study.  They don’t have to be involved.  And you don’t have to pull them from thin air.  A good place to begin is with a topic someone is really interested in.  That’s how ours usually begin.  The key to successful topical studies is often timing and interest!

Some good science topics to begin with

(But remember, “the sky’s the limit”!)

  • Birds
  • Bugs
  • Butterflies
  • 7 Days of Creation
  • Creation vs Evolution (we want our children to be critical thinkers!)
  • Gardening
  • Dinosaurs
  • Flowers
  • Endangered Animals

 

Biblical/Christian topics

  • Martyrs
  • Missionaries
Some good history topics
  • Indians (1 tribe/week or month, for example)
  • Presidents (1/week, for instance)

Specific Wars
  • Revolutionary War
  • Civil War
  • World War II
Specific Eras
  • Renaissance
  • Reformation
  • Middle Ages – knights, castles…

Geography studies
  • States (all 50 – 1 per week, for example)
  • Countries (from around the world, or within one continent)
  • Continent (maybe 1/month)

Anything else of interest to your family!!!

Once you have a topic, where do you begin?

  • The library
  • Your own books
  • Encyclopedias
  • On-line research
  • Used books
  • Multitudes of catalogs
  • Friends
  • Experts

I find that once I’ve chosen a topic – the resources practically jump out at me.

Depending on your topic, there may be oodles of free materials available for the asking:

  • County Extension Office
  • State Tourist Offices
  • On-line
  • State Welcome Centers

Two of my favorite, inexpensive resources for History, Geography, and Science studies are:

  • Dover Coloring Books
  • National Geographics

National Geographics have wonderful maps and pictures, and can usually be bought for very low prices at used book stores and places like Salvation Army and Goodwill.  (They do need to be edited occasionally.)

Scheduling a Topical Study

Start with a schedule/timeline for your study.  Do you want to study the topic for two weeks or two months?  Have a starting schedule, but be flexible…If it fizzles out sooner, stop!  If you’re having so much fun, you want to continue when your time is up, continue!

One main topic/day works well for us; we incorporate:

  • “Lectures” (one of my favorites)
  • Read alouds (a favorite for most of the students!)
  • Silent reading assignments
  • Research Assignments (give written or oral reports)
  • Art assignments (could include drawing/collages/sculpture)
  • Field trips as we can work them in

History through Topical Studies

With topical studies you can cover U.S. or World History in depth, over the course of many years.  Why “cover it all” in one year, again and again, never really going into any detail? With Topical Studies we never covered either World or American History from “start to finish” – but my children have a fairly good knowledge of both through the Topical Studies we have done throughout their many years of study.

In Conclusion

If you haven’t tried topical studies or unit studies with your family, please do.  If you have and didn’t like it, please try it again.  Your family could benefit greatly from the experience!

This blog post was primarily excerpted from my homeschool book, Topical Studies.

Happy Learning!

Cathy 

Homeschooling Questions and Answers

When we closed the doors of our physical space in December 2016, I knew there was one thing I would really miss afterwards – being able to encourage homeschoolers, both new and burnt-out veterans. So here’s hoping a blog will at least suffice for now.

After more than three decades in the role of “Veteran Homeschooler,” there were a number of concerns that came up again and again as I filled the roll of counsellor.

Concerns

I answered some of the basic questions on the page, Information for New Homeschoolers. That’s where I cover things like “is it legal,” how to get started, record keeping, etc. This blog will cover the types of questions I typically get from folks who have gotten past those early concerns, but are still overwhelmed. Here are a few of my favorite questions (with answers primarily excerpted from my homeschooling book, Organized Ramblings).

Since my preferred method to teach, both at home and in my classes, has been to stay as far away from textbooks as possible, that often shows up in my recommendations to homeschoolers. Does that mean I’m completely against the use of textbooks? Not entirely, but certainly close. I found through decades of teaching that topical studies were much more effective, generally cheaper, and more easily adaptable to multiple students. (More details on topical studies in the next post.)

What about Gaps in their Learning?

Yes, those will exist, but they will exist regardless of the method of education employed.

Our goals should include, teaching our children to:

  • Read and enjoy reading
  • Be excited about learning
  • Understand research options
  • Depending on our faith – to Love God

The specific details contained in their “curriculum package” are not really the issue.  Are we setting the foundation?  If we accomplish these things – what difference will the gaps make?  If a gap exists in an area that is really important, it will show up, and then it can be dealt with.  If it wasn’t important for that student, why does it matter?  And remember, a student who “covers” an entire “gap-free” textbook in one year has seldom learned much of it anyway!

My Husband only approves of Textbooks.  Now what? 

This is one of the most serious questions to deal with if you’re trying to approach homeschooling from another direction and it needs to be resolved in a win/win way – not a compromise, so much as a new approach.  What about using the textbooks – but using them a little differently than the “right” way?  For instance, use one history textbook for two students who are close together in age, instead of two different books.  And what about supplementing the textbook with other materials, and not trying to cover the entire book in one year?  Those two changes may help relax the home school pressures, and are often enough to relieve Dad’s concerns.

How important are Learning Styles?

Learning styles are important to a point, particularly if a student is struggling with a subject.   If a student is struggling to learn to read for instance, we may want to consider how that student learns best.  Is he an auditory learner, a visual learner, or a hands-on learner?  If we focus more on the students’ “style,” we may help them overcome some obstacles.

But beyond a “problem area,” we shouldn’t focus too much on learning styles. It’s better for students to get used to learning with various styles, than it is to focus on a particular one.  Visual, auditory, and hands-on methods can all reinforce each other, rather than one being chosen at the exclusion of the others.

What about Tests?

Tests are another concern for some people when they consider using a more relaxed method of schooling.  “What about tests?” they often ask.  “What about them?” I usually answer.  Tests are not really necessary in most home school situations.  They help classroom teachers figure out what 20 – 30 students are comprehending on any number of subjects.  Test if you want to, but it’s not a great loss if you don’t.  (How many of us remember cramming for tests in high school and college – how much of that do you remember?)  Beyond math, what purpose do most tests serve in a home school situation, anyway?

But, if you really want or need tests (for your cover school, for your sanity, for the grandparents), why do you have to be the one to write them?  Another way to accomplish testing in a non-textbook situation is to have the student(s) write the tests. That’s not cheating – it’s being practical. And in writing a test someone has to examine the material that’s being learned and determine what’s the most important part of it. Especially with older students, that’s as important a skill as being able to take the test!

How do we do it all?

We don’t…Maybe I should have started with this one, since it is a question that I am often asked.  Repeat after me, “We don’t do it all!  We can’t do it all!  We shouldn’t do it all.”  There are only 24-hours in each day, and we really need to slow down and enjoy some of them.

When I was homeschooling, I personally did a very limited amount of housework – my children washed the dishes, did most of the laundry, swept, vacuumed, and…I guess you get the picture.  I generally washed laundry about once a week, for my husband and me.  That’s all the laundry I personally take care of.  (And there have been times when I have even delegated that…catch that important word, please – DELEGATION.  A very important word in any home schooling mom’s vocabulary.)  When I was really organized, I even had my kids cook most of the meals.  These are all-important skills for our kids to learn.  My older kids have all been shocked as they’ve left home and been around peers who didn’t know how to do these basic things because they never did them at home.  Mine left home confident that they could take care of themselves in all these mundane areas.

Work should be an integral part of our children’s life (even before they appreciate that fact).  Life is about balance, and sometimes we moms feel very much out of balance.  But maybe that’s because we need to give more of it up to God.  We can’t do it all, and we need to stop trying so hard!

What about College?

Many factors go into the college admissions process – grades, standardized test scores, recommendations, essays, and much more. These days colleges seldom discriminate against homeschoolers, with many even going out of their way to recruit them. So home-educated students are typically not at a disadvantage for getting into college.  If for some reason, they don’t get into the four-year college of their choice initially, junior colleges are a good way for them to “prove themselves” in the college world.

While I was homeschooling I wanted my children to be academically, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to go to college, if that was the direction God was leading them.  But college is not necessarily right for each of them, and oftentimes “delayed college” is the right answer.  Like the other major (and minor) decisions in their lives, this is one that should only be approached prayerfully and carefully.

By the time my youngest had graduated from high school, most of my children had started college (some while in high school, some straight out of high school and some with delays for other life experience), many had finished college, and some were somewhere along the path. As of the beginning of 2017 I have only 1 child who has never taken any college classes, 2 that have taken 1 or more semesters, 2 that have completed their associates, 2 that are currently working on their bachelors, 2 who have their bachelors, 2 that have their masters, and 1 who has a law degree.

And with the exception of the first two who each used a correspondence school for their high school years, all of my children have primarily been homeschooled in the less “school at home” manner I’ve described above. As they got into high school they all took some classes with other teachers besides myself, most of which were more traditional, text-book based experiences. And a few of them dual enrolled in some college classes while they were in high school (though we only went that route occasionally).

In Conclusion

I homeschooled my children for 35 years. Along the way I certainly made lots of mistakes, as all parents, homeschooling or not, are going to do. But my children not only survived the situation, they thrived in it, and at least the last time I checked, none of them regret having been homeschooled.

Primarily, they remember the things we did – the “field trips” we took to Washington, D.C. or to follow the Lewis and Clark trail, the endless battlefields and museums we visited. In a few cases, generally when it relates to the jobs they are doing, they even remember a thing or two they learned in a class – maybe from a textbook, maybe not.

Are there things they didn’t learn along the way? Most definitely. But all their traditionally educated peers can say the same thing. One of the big advantages with my children is that they know how to learn what they don’t know or where to go for help.

For all that, I don’t claim to have all the answers; in fact, many times, I think the best answer to a question is another question.  But maybe some of these questions and answers will help you get started or keep going.

Happy Learning!

Cathy, Mom of 12

Author of Organized Ramblings

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